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[ Backstage ]

3. Maintenance Regime

The sound of trumpets died away and Orlando stood stark naked. No human being, since the world began, has ever looked more ravishing. His form combined in one the strength of a man and a woman’s grace. As he stood there, the silver trumpets prolonged their note, as if reluctant to leave the lovely sight which their blast called forth; and Chastity, Purity, and Modesty, inspired, no doubt, by Curiosity, peeped in at the door and threw a garment like a towel at the naked form which, unfortunately, fell short by several inches. Orlando looked himself up and down in a looking-glass, without showing any signs of discomposure, and went presumably, to his bath. We may take advantage of this pause in the narrative to make certain statements. Orlando had become a woman - there is no denying it.[1]

In contrast to the habitual paths or routines above, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1990) challenges the notion of stability and routine life. The lead character, Orlando’s life-span challenges the notion of a stable relationship to time (living for centuries) and sex/gender (the protagonist changes sex). Therefore, Woolf (via Orlando) queers the well-used path of characters and produces a fictional glitch in the traditional narrative structure. However, in life we tend to keep to a routine, as we believe it allows life to stay more stable, safe and in balance.

- Building Structure - 

Routine is also a central term in my practice, but to differentiate my process and labor from the routine enforced by institutions, I will refer to this process as a regime when related to my practice. This regime is self-imposed, but the repetitive motions can make it look like nothing has changed, as the organic material remains fresh, but at the same time, there are actions that need to be done to prevent the display of decomposition by replenishing the organic produce. These actions can be observed by the audience, but they are not overtly performed, as described in my account of the series Not Really Really (which I mention in Grumble). During the refreshing process of this series, my main duty is to serve the (organic) materials, but I do not overtly present an identity or intersubjective encounter which would be acting more as a performance artist. Instead, I present the artist as a supplement to the artwork, so it is less about the individual actor but, rather, the process aims to articulate the network that governs the presentation of the artwork (artist, institution, the work itself and the audience’s interpretation).

As Bruno Latour describes, we are living in an Actor Network society that means we have to consider inanimate objects as influential agents because they inform and direct human behavior. This informs my approach which situates maintenance as an indispensable medium in the presentation of art, as it is the uncuttable string that connects these actors (human, animate and inanimate). In the Not Really Really series, this mutually beneficial relationship allows either human or non-human actors to reciprocally undertake the caretaking of each other. Therefore, this mutual relationship could also relate to the phenomenon of symbiosis. In Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution (1997), Lynn Margulis states that ‘life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.’[2] Margulis claims that evolution is strongly based on co-operation, interaction, and mutual dependence among organisms. The network in the Not Really Really series is assembled through the multiple partnership between artist, the materials I have assembled, institution and the public. This of course includes my active maintenance of the artwork throughout the duration of the exhibition and the architecture/crossing of thresholds in the gallery in which it is staged. Therefore, the actors in the work are netted together and would not function without each other. For instance, the organic materials in the series need to be taken care of in order to remain fresh, so I need to undertake the maintenance in order for the artwork to function and the gallery needs to facilitate this maintenance, which may disrupt the usual running of the space, in order for the artwork to function. Each actor (organic materials, artist, gallery and audience) places a demand on the other, in order to maintain the process of staging.

The above netting together of actors, is similar to the multiple relationships in our contemporary global society that are a form of mutual maintenance. However, this maintenance in society can become unbalanced in terms of workload and demands on the worker due to its invisibility and the stories that are told by governments and corporations. As society has become a complicated interwoven network, it is difficult to isolate ourselves from the environment in which we emerge. This is similar to Truman’s experience of being trapped in the TV show; in an environment which has been constructed for him so he adheres to its invisible structures and mechanisms. My practice aims, like Truman, to render these structures visible so that we can cause a glitch in the system.

Bhabha introduces the concept of a ‘Third Space’, to describe the liminal space that is an intersection between colliding cultures. He explains that, ‘this process of hybridity gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognizable, a new area of negotiation of meaning and representation.’[3] In Bhabha’s account, culture’s co-construct each other through an exchange or discourse that can create hybrid identities through their encounter. This is a form of netting, which increases through our contemporary global environment with a network of evolving identities that are produced through the mixing and shifting sands of cultures. When presenting my practice to the public, I aim to reduce as much additional information as possible in order to not prescribe the context and interpretation of the artwork. For example, when Not Really Really (17-SS-4) was exhibited in Dusseldorf, the egg yolk - which was placed in the centre of a white wall - when viewed from afar became like a tiny dot on a huge blank canvas. My intention was that in front of the immense white wall and without any literary contextualisation, the work offers the viewer more possibility to explore and interpret it for themselves. The purpose of this approach is to create an open-ended (as opposed to prescribed) path for the viewer, so that they actively weave their personal networks into their interpretation of the work. 

[1] Virginia Woolf, Orlando (London: The Hogarth Press, 1990), 87. Qoute in Sally Potter, director. 1992, Orlando, Based on Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf, 1928. British Screen Productions.

[2] Lynn Margulis, Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution (California: University of California Press, 1997), 29.

[3] Homi K. Bhabha, “By Bread Alone: Signs of Violence in The Mid-Nineteenth Century.” In The Location of Culture,1989-211. (London: Routledge, 2004), 211.


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